The world’s most bizarre and unusual festivals and events

IF you’re planning to travel this year, here are some strange and unique celebrations worth planning a trip around.

Festivals are a broad concept and are usually perceived as a celebration of some kind – be it arts and culture or food and drink. But, occasionally festivals defy those expectations and are bound to beliefs or even ideologies that, to an outside observer, can seem bizarre. What type of thinking fuels the world’s most strange events? writer Olga Leleka presents a selection of the most bizarre events worldwide.

• Elephant Polo, Thailand.

The title is self explanatory, but Elephant Polo is more intriguing comparing to the traditional alternative played on horses.

Elephants make the game slower and because of this the pitch is 75 percent the length of a standard polo field. The elephants carry two people, are steered by mahouts – one of Thailand’s ethnic minorities, while the player tells the mahout which way to go and hits the ball.

The Kings Cup Elephant Polo Tournament is the 6th largest event in the Thai calendar and is usually held at Hua Hin at Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa. If in Thailand this year, you can enjoy the event between September 12 and 16.

• Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, Colombia.

If in Colombia in the end of March, you should make Cartagena part of your itinerary – here between December and March every year is the opportunity to get dirty.

Bathing in mud from the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo can best be described as a primal experience. The volcano is diminutive as volcanoes go, looking more like a little hill rising about 10 – 15m from the ground. If you climb a wooden staircase to reach the very top, you’ll discover a pit of gray mud. It’s believed the mud has a curing effect purifying your skin.

Locals usually offer a mud-massage to tourists at price 3000 COP that they won’t tell you before the massage.

• World Ice Golf Championship, Greenland.

For more than 10 years the World Ice Golf Championship has been regarded as the most extreme golf tournament in the world. In 1997, architect Rolf-Henning Jensen was challenged to design the world’s first ice golf course among huge icebergs and heavy snows of Uummannaq, a small town on the west coast of Greenland – 600km north of the Arctic Circle. When golfers tire of green European courses, they can pack suitcases to play a round on the ‘white’ of Greenland.

There golfers face extreme temperatures as their first task to cope with. Then it will take players time and patience accustoming to a white “green” and fluorescent orange balls to play with. Determined by weather conditions, the tournament is scheduled for March each year in Greenland.

• Balloon Fiesta, United States.

Have you ever taken to the skies in a hot air balloon? The annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta gives you that chance, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the city and countryside. Since 1972, perfect October weather, blue skies and wind patterns known as the “Albuquerque Box” have combined to allow balloonists to control and retrace their route thanks to the direction of blowing winds.

This is the only place in the world to enjoy a mass ascension of balloons floating in the blue skies each October.

• El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Mexico.

In early November, each year, Mexicans gather in cemeteries to launch a celebration…that’s right a celebration of the dead. They drink tequila, smoke cigars and eat festive foods to show life goes on as they honor those who have departed. The idea is based on the belief the spirits of the dead pay their families a visit between on October 31 and stay until November 2.

The tradition is strange, it literally laughs in the face of death, but the action enchants.

• La Tomatina, Spain.

It’s possibly the most famous (and most specific) food fight in the world. So if you think tomatoes are only for salads, you are on a wrong track. Just a visit to Valencia or more precisely a small Spanish village named Bunol in August can totally change your perception. There, on the last Wednesday of August, every year, truck dump 120 tonnes of tomatoes in the streets of the town and the mayhem, tomato juice and pulp flows from there.


• El Colacho, Spain.

The world’s most dangerous festival takes place in a small Spanish village Castrillo de Murcia near Burgous annually to celebrate the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi. El Colacho means devil’s jump and literally this is the act of baby-jumping. The action is symbolic of exorcism meaning a devil leaving the child’s body. Men dressed as devils jump over small babies to guard them against illness and evil spirits.

Many regard the festival as dangerous as ‘jumping devils’ could hurt babies. But locals believe the action protects their babies from evil and organize the jump in the streets, so people can watch or even participate. This year the event is planned in early June.

• Hadaka Matsuri, Japan.

Maybe it’s best to think of this festival as akin to donning the skimpiest Speedo you can find, except you are unlikely to be near water. This is another bizarre Japanese festival concerned with getting naked in public. Men take to the streets to throw away their clothes covering only the most intimate parts of body – usually just a Japanese loincloth (called fundoshi). Thousands of men get naked in the streets due to the 500-year-old belief that a naked man has more ability to absorb evil spirits. Hence, anyone who touches a naked man become free from evil. The festival is held across Japan in both Summer and Winter.

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